Cricket: From refugee camps to World Cup glory- Inspiring journey of Afghan...

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Published Time: 06.06.2024 - 02:02:02 Modified Time: 06.06.2024 - 02:02:02

Another Afghan cricketer, Allah Dad Noori, also played a key role by pioneering a path for cricket in Afghanistan. Cricket

“Life was all struggle those days,” Karim Sadiq recalls. “Doing odd jobs in the night and playing cricket in the daytime. We used a stick as a bat, used to make plastic balls from plastic waste material.”

There was an old black-and-white TV set in their refugee camp where the young and elders watched international matches, including Pakistan winning the 1992 World Cup. These events had a huge influence on aspiring cricketers in Afghan refugee camps.

The elder brother, Taj Maluk, searched for talent in refugee camps and founded the Afghan Cricket Club, which arguably laid the foundation of the future Afghanistan team.

Another Afghan cricketer, Allah Dad Noori, also played a key role by pioneering a path for cricket in Afghanistan.

Like the brothers, many international Afghan players, such as Mohammad Shehzad, Raees Ahmadzai, Mohammad Nabi, and the country’s first global star Rashid Khan, now captain, all grew up learning cricket and becoming cricketers in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“It was our passion. We didn't know then that Cricket would bring such happiness to the Afghan nation,” Karim Sadiq told VOA. “Cricket conveys a message that Afghanistan is not a country of war and drugs. It's a country of love and sports.”

In 2001, after the invasion of the U.S. forces against the Taliban rule, cricket flourished in Afghanistan, which became an associate member of the ICC, the world’s cricketing body.

A new younger generation of cricketers emerged. Now, Afghanistan is a full member of the ICC’s elite club of 12 countries, and it enjoys the status of a test-playing nation.

The Afghan team won many hearts in the 2023 World Cup after earning wins against the former world champions — Pakistan, England and Sri Lanka.

“Afghan players fight for every match as they are fighting for the nation,” Pakistan’s former captain, Rashid Latif, who coached Afghanistan, told VOA. “T20 cricket needs aggression and Afghanistan players have it. They are capable of surprises in the World Cup.”

Now, Afghanistan is playing in the T20 Cricket World Cup co-hosted by the United States and West Indies. It has strong contenders like New Zealand and West Indies in the group, along with minnows Papa New Guinea and Uganda. Some experts call it the “Group of Death” because only two teams will make it through the knockout stage.

The Taliban banned all women's sports and put restrictions on some men’s sports, but not cricket. There is speculation it’s because they enjoyed the game themselves or were apprehensive the possible public reaction if they banned it, given its massive popularity.

A few weeks ago, when Afghanistan’s team captain, Rashid Khan, visited Afghanistan to meet family and friends, Taliban officials presented him with bouquets and took selfies with the superstar.

Rashid and his team members, including young superstars — batters Rehmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran, allrounder Azmatullah Omarzai, spinners Mujeeb-ur Rehman and Noor Ahmed — have arrived in the West Indies, as have their diehard supporters from Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Back in Afghanistan, Karim Sadiq is now working to promote the sport, while his elder brother, 49-year-old Taj Maluk, has turned to religion. “Cricket is not just a game. It reunites Afghans and brings joy to the lives of ,” Taj Maluk told VOA. “We will pray for their success.”

“Afghanistan is a wounded land. Cricket helps stitch those wounds,“ said Shams ul Rahman Shirzad, a cricket fan in Nangarhar, from where the brothers Taj Maluk and Karim Sadiq hailed and once dreamed of having a national cricket team.